Technology has radically transformed behaviour and customer expectations across consumer and business. The dominance of mobile has driven consumers to expect ubiquitous access to news and information on the move. Allied to a shift in information consumption, we have also witnessed a change in behaviour. More than a quarter of consumers have started buying from new brands after discovering them through social media, and almost a third have changed their favourite brand based on a recommendation from friends on social.

During this age of digital disruption, CMOs are facing an ever-increasing pressure to work harder and keep up with both customer and technological demands. We always need to take a step back, reflect on the past year, and set ourselves key priorities for the year ahead. What did I do? Did it work? What did I learn? Would I have done anything differently?

This reflection helps me ensure that I’m transforming personally, and that my team is too. This year, I’m focused on three key areas: being customer obsessed, making decisions driven by data, and nurturing teams.

Be obsessed with your customers

Customers want to feel listened to and now expect a tailored customer experience that meets their needs. It’s clear that leaders need to get under the skin of our customers and there will be serious repercussions if we fail to become customer obsessed. Recent research suggests that more than 70% of marketing executives believe that a lack of investment in the online customer experience is impacting the growth of their company, while two-fifths worry about the reputational damage their business might suffer.

Marketing has evolved from a transactional and tactical function, to helping the business understand customers and develop long lasting relationships. CMOs can only truly deliver this by listening to customers and collaborating closely with them. Today’s connected customers defy the traditional segmentation based on spend, size or demographics. At Microsoft, we embrace account based marketing, which we use to identify customers and prospects. Then we can develop a strategic marketing plan that goes deeper with an individual customer and their stakeholders. Success is truly built on understanding, not profiling.

As part of the culture I’m building within the Marketing team here at Microsoft UK, we’re running a number of key initiatives to ensure that we really know our customers.  We’re doing this by ensuring our people meet more customers and have more conversations. My team hears from customers in town halls. They get immersed in our customer stories, so they can authentically tell them. And they have weekly access to customer insights.

Use data to drive your decisions

This isn’t exactly a new topic, but it’s crunch time and as CMOs we need to get ahead. Most organisations are rich in data but poor on insight. If we embrace digital transformation, we can deliver new ways to acquire customers faster, and gain a better understanding of purchasing trends from internal data combined with external sources. Instead of having to rely on small samples and guesswork, sales and marketing teams can embrace big data to pinpoint decision-makers and where to find them. For example, with the right analytical tools, social listening can enable CMOs to find the exact people they need to reach, and understand how they interact and influence each other. We can also monitor how effective we are with real-time insights.

While at times we may feel overloaded with data, CMOs need insights to drive decision making and enable their marketers to make informed and forward-looking strategic decisions. I find it fascinating that most decisions in all companies are only ever made by 10% of the employees. Interestingly, 87% of marketers consider data to be their most under-used asset. Data should power every marketing decision to ensure marketers are more informed and forward looking.

We’re bringing this approach to life by simplifying the way we share data and using collaboration tools such as OneNote, Yammer and Microsoft Teams. We’re focused on understanding what content our customers are consuming, depending on their business issues. And we’re lead scoring and nurturing them to deliver better quality leads. It’s important we know our customers’ business issues and product purchasing behaviours, to predict where they will go next. We also use precision customer targeting to ensure customers are getting the most relevant content and call to actions based on where they are in their journey.

Nurture your teams

Our industry is fast paced and demanding on our people. So, we need to support our teams from the front, middle and back to help them be agile and flexible. We need to nurture a culture that empowers people to take risks, make mistakes and learn from them. 85% of senior executives agree that a diverse and inclusive workforce is crucial to encouraging different perspectives and ideas that drive innovation. At Microsoft, we’re focused on building a culture where everyone feels valued and understands the difference they are making to the business and their customers. My leadership team and I spend a lot of time putting our people first and ensuring that they are set up for success. Leaders should focus on building a culture of shared responsibility so that everyone values their role in the team and shares in its success.

As a CMO and leader of a team, I believe that my job is to set my team up for success. So, I focus on three leadership principles:

  • Create clarity: unravel the complex and define a clear direction with a course of action
  • Generate energy: inspire optimism, creativity and growth, and create an environment where everyone does their best work
  • Deliver success: deliver innovation that people love and tenaciously pursue the right outcomes for our customers and the business

I then connect these three leadership principles with the culture we’re building around customer obsession, growth mindset, making a difference, being diverse and inclusive, and collaborating as one Microsoft.

Know and understand your customers.

Make decisions supported by data.

Nurture your teams.

These three priorities are all important. But the one thing I encourage CMOs to do more than anything else is to invest in a team specialist who can live in the data, generate powerful insights and help your team embrace a data-driven environment that benefits the business and most importantly your customers. In a digital age, data is the new oil that powers business growth and sustains innovation.

It’s certainly an exciting time to be working in marketing, playing an important role in delivering both personal and business success.